Forget about foreign funding for the Victory 15 group; don’t pay attention to the Obama campaign aides that were shuttled into the Israeli election arena; and let’s dismiss the threats from administration officials of “what will be” if Benjamin Netanyahu was to be re-elected as Prime Minister of Israel. These were all fun and interesting sidebars, but they had little-to-no effect on the actual outcome of last week’s election in Israel.
Any money that came in from left-wing outsiders was no doubt matched, and likely surpassed, by casino-mogul/Bibi-investor Sheldon Adelson and other right-wing supporters. The same can be said for the incoming wave of Obama campaign aides since American political operatives have long advised Israeli politicians across the political spectrum. (I wouldn’t be surprised if Bibi’s advisors have their own fantasy football league.) And while the diplomatic threats of less UN support and more pressure to bring about a Palestinian state should not be taken lightly, they pale in severity compared to the physical threats we see in Israel coming closer to our borders with every passing day.
In light of that reality, do you really think Israelis are that worried about yet another UN resolution against them, even if it does have US support? The prospect of a ban on buying strawberries from the settlements would certainly not be welcome, but it’s far preferable to acquiescing on even one inch of our national security needs.
IT’S ALL ABOUT THE ARMY
Israelis tend to have a more intimate understanding of the US-Israel partnership than Americans do because most Israelis serve in the military and experience the most critical aspects of the relationship. Defense is where the heart of the alliance lies, safe and sound from the rotating politicians on both sides (although it does seem that Israel’s rotors have been stuck in a rut for a while).
There is no amount of disgust an American president could have with an Israeli government that would cause it to decrease military cooperation in any meaningful sense of the word, because America benefits greatly from the relationship and Bibi knows it. Bibi also knows that if America is willing to keep sending planes to Saudi Arabia amidst all the horrors that go on there, we have a long way to go before it stops sending them to Israel for building a few too many balconies in Jerusalem.
President Obama himself has consistently said throughout every clash between him and Bibi, including the current one, that defense and security ties are and will remain stronger than ever – something confirmed regularly by Israeli generals and witnessed daily by Israeli soldiers. The American president is not a stupid man. He and his generals are fully aware of how much Israel is worth to America’s national security strategy and they’re not about to sacrifice that over some diplomatic frustration.
The obvious conclusion is that while the UN threat may be real and already in motion, there is no threat whatsoever of a deterioration of the ties that matter most. And therein lies the real reason Bibi won the election and will remain King of Israel: because President Obama crowned him so the moment he reminded Israelis that the Zionist Camp option – the alternative to Bibi – is really the Obama Option, a reality far worse to most Israelis than any consequence the US president could bring about if Bibi remained in his current role as prime minister.
The backing of the Obama administration was meant to be a positive incentive from the Zionist Camp to show Israelis that if they win, the people of Israel will be back in the good graces of President Obama and back on track to making peace in the Middle East. The miscalculation, however, was that the Obama way of dealing with the Middle East is anathema to most Israelis, and many, many Arabs as well. The more Israelis understood that voting for Bougie (Isaac Herzog, head of the Zionist Camp party) means voting for Barack, the more they decided to stick with the devil they know.
What President Obama and much of the world fail to understand is that Israelis don’t get scared. We have fears, and they are a plenty. But our way of dealing with those fears is to walk right up to them with a sledgehammer and then calmly return to our scheduled programming. Israelis do not, are not and will never be scared by threats from Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas or ISIS; and neither will Israelis lose sleep over threats from allies such as the US and the EU.
While a stoic reaction to terrorist threats is expected and assured, it’s those second set of threats that need examining, because friendly threats are not made in a vacuum. More appropriately, if we want to use the preferred diplomatic language, we’re talking about the carrot-and-stick approach.
The stick was discussed earlier, which for now seems to hold UN and Palestinian support as its #1 weapon, but it would be dishonest not to include the carrots that Israel’s allies have offered in parallel. There have been various initiatives mentioned from special status at the EU to increased economic and cultural cooperation, but there is one – and only one – carrot that could have enough weight to stop Israel from taking its current hardline positions on the Palestinians and Iran: guaranteed security for Israel backed by US military action if need be.
It’s no secret that Israel can, has and will continue to take care of its own security masterfully, but let’s not exaggerate things here. There is only one country in the world that can provide the ultimate sense of security (and I stress the word “sense”) and that is the United States of America.
It bears strong clarification that Israelis in no way want American soldiers fighting their wars. One of the biggest tragedies I can think of is a US soldier dying in defense of Israel when Israel has such an enormous capability to defend herself by herself. But if the US wants to hold Israel back from any action it believes it needs to take on Iran – or push it into taking diplomatic action it deems dangerous with the Palestinians – then the US must guarantee that it will support Israel in whatever military action it feels it needs to take if the situation deteriorates. And if the window for that action has passed Israel’s military capabilities, then the US herself must take the action it forced Israel to abstain from.
A guaranteed security commitment from the US should be something that’s pretty easy to convince Israelis of considering it already exists in many different facets: a $3 billion a year investment in the IDF for almost 40 years; regular and ever-increasing military cooperation, intelligence-sharing and training between the US and Israeli armed forces; a nuclear arsenal that can wipe out the solar system paired with a pillar of United States foreign policy that is grounded on Israel’s security and stability.
America wants a secure Israel as bad as Israel does, because she benefits greatly from it in many ways, and that should be very easy for Israelis to understand and put their faith in.
So why is it so complicated? It’s not that Obama doesn’t have the tools at his disposal to guarantee Israel’s security, at least as far as he can guarantee America’s, and it’s not that he’s unwilling to.
It’s that Israelis don’t believe him.
Not for a minute.
We’re not conspiratorial about it. We don’t think he’s a Muslim in disguise trying to bring America down from within. We don’t think about, nor care, where he was born. While it’s clear he has Palestinian sympathies, to be fair he has not shown any sign of those sympathies arising from anything other than typical leftist ideology. Those who say he is an anti-Semite are destroying the meaning of the word, and ignoring the many positive things President Obama has done for Israel during his presidency.
Although there are many reasons why more and more Americans don’t take President Obama at his word (I keep hearing something about keeping your doctor??), Israelis distrust him for one crystal-clear reason: he has proven in the most serious and historical of ways that his word is absolutely meaningless.
RED LINES HAVE CONSEQUENCES
Two summers ago we watched in horror as Bashar Assad gassed his own people, adding to the maddening horror that has been going on there far too long. Although I wept for those who suffered and died, part of me said “all right, it needed to get to this point in order for the world to take action.” It was obvious now that the US would finally get involved militarily because they crossed a red line set by the President of the United States of America, and you don’t get to do that without any consequence.
Except they did. Not one shot was fired. Instead, President Obama backtracked on his red line and bumbled his approach to the entire incident. Although he came up with a diplomatic solution that got rid of most the chemical weapons peacefully – something to be commended for – we’re discovering it was not a total elimination (shocker), and there are now reports of a possible nuclear program being re-created, along with the small detail of leaving Bashar the Butcher to continue his slaughter.
I’m not second-guessing the subsequent actions that took place after Obama’s red lines dissipated into thin air. There’s no way to know if military action at the time would have helped or made it worse. I’m aware of the complications in the Syrian conflict and that it’s not black and white.
However, red lines are. You set them, someone crosses them, and then you deliver the consequences. There is no other way to survive in this region. You don’t blink in the Middle East. When you blink you lose. You lose your deterrence with your enemies and you lose your credibility with your allies.
President Obama destroyed all hopes of Middle East peace under his administration the moment he walked back his red line on Syria. The US now has nothing to offer but diplomatic sticks. The military carrot is gone, no longer functioning and no longer believable. Not by Israel, not by Saudi Arabia, not by Jordan and not by any other country in the Middle East who knows this region for what it is, and not as one might wish it would be.
So when Israelis were presented with the option on Election Day to vote for the Zionist Camp to work with President Obama on Iran and the Palestinians, or for Likud to work against Obama on the exact same issues, the democratic state of Israel chose to deal with its fears the way it has always done, and with great success – take out the sledgehammer and go back to our scheduled programming.
The majority of Israelis prefer to live the next two years with less US backing and hope for a friendlier administration in 2017, rather than surrender to flimsy guarantees that have proven to be worthless in the past. We’re not taking our chances on another North Korea with Iran. We’re not taking our chances on another Gaza with the West Bank. And we’re definitely not taking our chances on a weak president who doesn’t deliver.
It’s no secret that many Israelis do not like Bibi and his chances of re-election were not looking good. Without foreign interference, the Zionist Camp most likely would have won. They had everything going for them – frustration with the incumbent, a joint list that got people excited, a better grassroots operation and more funding than ever before.
However, the Zionist Camp made a terrible calculated mistake by joining forces with the American Left led by President Barack Obama. They reminded all of Israel that if they win, this is the man they’ll work with to guarantee our security. They reminded all of Israel that they believe in his worldview and his way of dealing with the issues of the world. The Zionist Camp, by allying with President Obama, reminded Am Yisrael, the people of Israel, that they’re willing to place their trust, and our security, on his red lines.
And that was all that was needed for Bibi to seal the election.
BIBI THE GREAT
These past few weeks I watched Bibi not just survive the controversy over his speech to the US congress, but come out with thriving congressional support as he placed the issue of the Iranian nuclear deal at the center of daily American discourse. I then watched him one-up every other politician, government and NGO around the world that wanted to see him gone, and tried their hardest to make it happen.
After seeing Bibi win one of the most difficult, dramatic and impactful elections in Israeli history, an election he should’ve lost, yet came out swinging and literally won “against all odds,” I have to admit that at the end of the day, this kind of man might be exactly what Israel needs at this point in time. A diplomatic bulldozer who is willing to fight until the last bullet to secure the interests of his people (right alongside his own, of course) is not the worst type of leader to have when you live in the current Middle East, and certainly not as bad as one who retreats in the face of adversity.
Yes, Bibi said some despicable things to play on the fears of the electorate, and his comments about our fellow Arab citizens, whether or not they were said in the context of trying to win an election, should be condemned by every single Jew in this country as the lowest point ever sunk to by a politician in Israeli history. But if one wants to understand the actual fear behind those comments, it wasn’t because the Arabs were “voting in droves” that caused Likud supporters to come out in full force. It’s because the outcome of their voting would be the Obama option, which is the greatest fear of all.
Even though I didn’t vote for Bibi and was hoping for a change – less on substance, more on style – I’m not unhappy with the result that we have one hell-of-a-smart prime minister who up until now has managed to beat back every single challenge with the kind of skillful pluck and cunning superiority that it takes to survive in this region. And if President Obama really understood Israelis, he’d realize that THIS is what we admire most.
I know it’s what many Americans admire as well, and it’s a shame that they can’t experience it with their current leader. Now that the real Obama is taking off the gloves and preparing to give Israel all he’s got, we’re seeing yet another threat emerge, and there’s no one I want more in the prime minister’s chair than Benjamin Netanyahu, the man who’s proven capable of outwitting the dimwitted time and time again.